Éamon Ó Cuív TD, an outspoken critic of the coalition government’s composition, the former deputy leader of Fianna Fáil, and grandson of the party’s founder, Éamon de Valera, tells eolas Magazine about his stance on the current government’s performance and his political journey.
How did your political career begin?
I was always interested in working to improve society and at the age of 23 I got a position as the manager of a newly formed Gaeltacht co-operative in Dúiche Sheoigheach of Conamara. At the beginning there was only a committee, me as manager, and a share capital of IR£3,500. As this was a sheep farming area, the first task was to build a unit to fatten 2,000 sheep in. We also started trading in farm supplies, although due to the oil crisis the sheep fattening did not work out, and the co-op branched into activities such as timber milling, an Irish college, machinery hire, and farming.
When I was a few years there I was invited to a meeting of the local Fianna Fáil Cumann. I then became the Cumann Chair and in time the Comhairle Ceantair Secretary. As a manager of a community co-op in a rural area I was constantly hampered in my work by the lack of infrastructure such as telecommunications, roads, three-phase power supply, and also with the cost of trying to do business in a remote location. This drew me into politics more and more at the local level. I stood at a number of selection conventions and eventually got a chance to run in the 1985 local elections in which I failed to get elected. I then, after a great effort, against the head by diligently canvassing 500 delegates, got a nomination to run in the general election of 1987. I was eventually eliminated with 4,800 votes and failed to get a seat.
I ran again in 1989 and again failed to get elected losing by less than 150 votes. I ran for the Seanad in 1989 and managed to get elected. In 1991, I got elected to Galway County Council and in 1992, at the third attempt, I got elected to the Dáil and have successfully gotten re-elected at the last six general elections.
What are your proudest achievements in the Oireachtas to date?
I had the great privilege of having been a minister for over 13 years and was active in many spheres during that time. In the 1990s, I started work with republican prisoners in England and also in the North of Ireland pre-Good Friday Agreement. I hope my work played a small part in the lead up to that agreement. I have also being quietly doing this work again since 2011 and will continue to do so as long as I need to. As a minister with the responsibility for the Irish language I piloted through the first Official Languages Act, and was minister when Irish became an official language of the EU. I also set up the office of Language Commissioner, as well as many other schemes, and was Minister when Foras na Gaeilge was founded.
“I have not changed my mind in relation to my stance at the formation of this government and feel that despite their best efforts, they are being stymied from being as radical as I would like.”
Éamon Ó Cuív TD on Fianna Fáil ministers
In rural and community development, I set up the Rural Social Scheme, the Clár programme, the Community Services Programme, and Comhairle na Tuaithe. I also instituted the largest programme of development of island services and infrastructure ever. At present I am working on a Private Member’s Bill that would allow for the opening of historic safe deposits in banks and their display by the National Institutions as appropriate. The Bill has gone through second stage and pre-legislative scrutiny and I am hopeful it will become law in this term of the Oireachtas.
What is unique about representing the Galway West constituency?
Galway West is a very interesting constituency that covers a large geographic area including four populated offshore islands. It also has the largest Gaeltacht in the country. It is very diverse, including within its borders a fertile agricultural area to the east of the city, Galway City, Conamara and, for the last two Dáil terms, a part of south County Mayo.
It is unique in that in my time in the Dáil there were always at least three TDs that were fluent in the Irish language, which is the dominant language in the Gaeltacht areas. Living 60km from the city with only 2,000 electors living within 30km of my home, stamina and a willingness to do a lot of travel within the constituency have been a constant of my career in politics. However, the most rewarding thing about representing Galway West has been the fantastic friends I have made over many years without whose support my work would not be possible.
How can Fianna Fáil maximise its impact during the lifetime of the current government?
As is publicly known, I campaigned within Fianna Fáil against the formation of the present government. I did of course accept the verdict of the members of the party in favour of joining Fine Gael and the Green Party in government. After three-and-a-half years of this government, I would like to compliment the Fianna Fáil ministers on the work they have done but I have not changed my mind in relation to my stance at the formation of this government and feel that despite their best efforts, they are being stymied from being as radical as I would like in pursuit of policies to deal with the urgent issues facing our society. In the meantime, all we can do is to continue to try pursue Fianna Fáil policies within the confines of this coalition until the end of its term.
What are your interests outside of the political sphere?
My main non-political interests are my family, sport (particularly Gaelic sports), history, walking, and the Irish language and culture. No matter what my schedule was over the years, I always tried to make it my business to attend any matches our children were involved in. As president of Cumann Naomh Pádraig, An Fháirche, one of the great highlights was when the local football team won the Junior Club All-Ireland in Croke Park in February 2012 with our son Éamon playing at midfield. It is now great to see our grandchildren grow up and to support them in their endeavours and interests.